Sex, Humor, and Risk in Social Media
- 2020, Nancy Baym Annual Book Award
232 pp., 6 x 9 in, 12 b&w photos
- Published: October 22, 2019
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: September 27, 2019
- Publisher: The MIT Press
An exploration of how and why social media content is tagged as “not safe for work” and an argument against conflating sexual content with risk.
The hashtag #NSFW (not safe for work) acts as both a warning and an invitation. NSFW tells users, “We dare you to click on this link! And by the way, don't do it until after work!” Unlike the specificity of movie and television advisories (“suggestive dialogue,” “sexual content”), NSFW signals, nonspecifically, sexually explicit content that ranges from nude selfies to pornography. NSFW looks at how and why social media content is tagged “not safe” and shows how this serves to conflate sexual content and risk. The authors argue that the notion of “unsafety” extends beyond the risk of losing one's job or being embarrassed at work to an unspecified sense of risk attached to sexually explicit media content and sexual communication in general.
The authors examine NSFW practices of tagging and flagging on a range of social media platforms; online pornography and its dependence on technology; user-generated NSFW content—in particular, the dick pic and associated issues of consent, desire, agency, and social power; the deployment of risqué humor in the workplace; and sexist and misogynist online harassment that functions as an enforcer of inequalities. They argue against the categorical effacement of sexual content by means of an all-purpose hashtag and urge us to shift considerations of safety from pictorial properties to issues of context and consent.
“NSFW: Sex, Humor, and Risk in Social Media is a more than book. It opens up NSFW as more than a homogenous category of offensive content, and highlights that our concerns should be with much more than safety for work. NSFW reveals how sexuality continues to be entangled with governance—in this case on, of, and by social media platforms.”
Katrin Tiidenberg, Associate Professor of Visual Culture and Social Media, Tallinn University, Estonia; author of Selfies: Why We Love (and Hate) Them
“Through a range of methods spanning the humanities, social sciences, and data science, Paasonen, Jarrett, and Light offer a sophisticated close reading of contemporary digital media cultures. Ranging from the attention economies of dating apps and social media platforms, to platform-based gig economies, to regulatory economies of digitally mediated workplaces, NSFW considers both the politics of commercial sexwork and everyday practices of sexual expression, asking whose bodies and feelings are defined unsafe and whose work is legitimated by platform governance and regulation practices.”
Kath Albury, Professor of Media and Communication at Swinburne University of Technology
“In NSFW, Paasonen, Jarrett, and Light draw on qualitative and quantitative methods to develop a critically engaged and multi-scalar discussion of an integral hashtag, cleaving a critical space in which they expose the ambiguous pleasures and politics nested within the term. A must-read for anyone interested in popular culture and social media.”
Sharif Mowlabocus, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies, University of Sussex
An honest look at a complex subject with the recommendation to look beyond content and instead focus on context and consent.